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UpstreamOnline: Unions call for Shell safety probe

By Chris Hopson

UK trades union Unite and the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee (OILC) have called on the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) to look into safety processes in place at supermajor Shell’s North Sea operations.

The unions are asking the HSE to look at the company’s “management of change” processes and whether Shell can meet their Safety Case requirements in relation to the offshore Prevention of Fire & Explosion, & Emergency Response (PFEER) Regulations 1995.

The unions’ call follows complaints from members of both unions who are employed on Shell’s installations which have been put up for sale – Cormorant Alpha & Dunlin Alpha (CADA); and Tern, Eider and North Cormorant (TENC) installations.

The unions claim that since Shell’s announcement on divestment of its CADA and TENC assets, communications between the company and the offshore workforce have deteriorated to the point it is now impacting on operational safety.

A letter sent to Shell senior managers from the offshore workforce earlier this week said: “Many platforms areas are now not fully covered by trained and competent people and certain HSE safety critical roles are not fully supported. This is entirely the result of recent departures attributable to the prolonged nature of the divestment issue.”

The unions claimed morale is at an all-time low, and also alleged several key personnel have left the company “in disgust at the treatment they have received”. This in turn has created gaps in safety critical positions.

It is this area that concerns the unions most. The unions believe that the gaps in these safety critical positions could be so severe that, in the event of an emergency, staff may be unable to cope. If this is the situation, then Shell would be considered to be in breach of Safety Case requirements.

Some of the gaps in the safety critical positions are as follows: control room operators (CROs), shift supervisors process, technical custodians of instrumentation and responsible persons (electrical). It is reported that on some platforms there is now a lack of suitably trained fire team leaders which cast doubt on the fire teams ability to be effective should an incident occur.

Graham Tran, regional officer of Unite (Amicus Section) said: “It is ironic that today the focus is on Aberdeen and the Offshore Europe event where health and safety is supposed to be the number one priority in everything we do offshore. Yet here we have a major oil operator who in the words of their own workforce are “prepared to play games, and put the profits of the company before the safety of personnel”.

Tran added: “If an investigation supports the concerns of the workforce I would expect the HSE to shut down Shell’s operations in these areas immediately. This must also serve as another wake up call to Government in relation to Shell’s commitment to health and safety”.

Jake Molloy, general secretary of the OILC said; “Shell management appear completely unable to manage people. Time and time again they throw money and resources into developing plans without engaging those who will ultimately determine the success or failure of those plans, the workforce.

“In this instance the workforce had assumed a well rehearsed and frequently utilised system for divestment would be applied. Shell management decided otherwise and developed a new approach which they are now hoping to force on staff. These workers are key to the divestment of these installations and, moreover, they are absolutely crucial to ensuring their safe operation. The workers deserve better,” he added

Tran and Molloy said: “It is disconcerting to say this, but we’ve been here before in relation to Shell’s ability to deal with ‘human factors’ and their impact on health and safety performance. The consequences of their last failure were horrific. It would appear lessons have not been learnt and that it is ‘business as usual’ for senior Shell managers, some of whom were active participants in the last enforced change.”

John Gallager, vice president technical for Shell Europe, said the major asset transfers in the UK North Sea rarely take place on time.

“We made these divestments on 14 June. I have discussed it with Tran, but these specific points raised with Upstream have not been raised with us,” he said.

John Hollowell, vice president for production Shell Europe, confirmed that he had received the unions’ letter.

“We have taken a look at the letter. Certainly if someone on a platform has a concern about safety I want to know about it and to try to address it,” he said.

“However, when you look at what they are talking about in terms of competencies in safety critical positions on the platforms it doesn’t match up with our current view. We feel like we have all the competencies we need on these installations,” he added.

Hollowell added that Shell’s offshore installation managers had been on top of the situation. “They understand how important safety is and it is our top priority on the platforms during this difficult period.”

He added that there was another meeting with staff representatives on the platforms today in a bid to better understand what their concerns and issues are.

06 September 2007 11:01 GMT  | last updated: 06 September 2007 11:07 GMT and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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